Monday, Aug. 26, 1996
This August has certainly been a mind-fuck, as they say in Berkeley (and I’d better get familiar with those quaint Berkeley locutions again, since I’ll be living there in a week). First there was a strange quickie trip to L.A., during which my co-writer Treva Silverman and I got notes from a director who’s interested in a screenplay we’ve written. His notes were reasonable, plausible, even shrewd, but that hardly made them welcome; in terms of fun, revising a script ranks right up there with a good, thorough prostate exam.
And then home to Washington, where I spent several days forlorn amid the cartons and furniture, debris of my soon-to-end D.C. existence, which the moving men eventually hauled away (the debris and the existence, it felt like). After three-and-a-half years here, my son and I are heading back to Berkeley, I via the Chicago convention. My wife will be heading in the opposite direction, returning to Washington after the convention, continuing to serve in the administration, at least till after the election, maybe even till the end of the first (as we Democrats like to think of it) Clinton term. Let no one claim that politics is family-friendly. We are now doomed to spend several months as a broken family. We might even achieve dysfunctional status if we play our cards right.
What’s really disorienting–the primordial mind-fuck, the ur-mind-fuck–is the bizarre confluence of the four different locales that have been playing such a prominent role in my life this month. Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago, and Berkeley. These aren’t merely different cities: They’re different planets. And ironically, considering the pomposity of one and the reputed frivolity of the other, the two that have the most in common are Washington and Los Angeles.
Among other things, both are single-business towns. In Los Angeles, sooner or later, every conversation turns to the movie business. Not necessarily to movies per se, but to the business (or, as we call it, the industry). This occurs even when one’s interlocutor isn’t directly connected to the industry. Because directly or not, everyone there feels connected. Not wrongly, either: In a single-business town, the success of every other endeavor hinges on the health of that one business. Think of Hershey, Pa., during a chocolate blight, and you’ll begin to get the idea. If the movie industry is depressed, restaurants do poorly, personal trainers lose their trainees, clothing stores start offering sales, office space goes begging, school fund-raisers suffer, etc. The Betty Ford Clinic may continue to thrive, but that’s the no-explanations-necessary exception.
In Washington, the comparable industry is, of course, politics. Maybe it’s simply a matter of the heady elevations at which I, through no fault of my own, have been gamboling these last three-and-a-half years, but sooner or later, every social event I’ve attended has resolved itself into a political discussion. Anything else was just foreplay.
I’m not complaining, mind you. I’ve been a political junkie most of my life. Had this not been the case, I’d have fled a long time ago, and this whole political-spouse business would have just been one long prostate exam. But now that I’m leaving, now that I’m heading home, the re-transition should be interesting, and might be unexpectedly uncomfortable. I’m worried about symptoms of decompression when I get back to Berkeley. Will the discussions I used to enjoy–critical analyses of some new restaurant’s bruschetta, for example, or the familiar, maddening, elusive search for a fine domestic pinot–still hold my interest? Or will my mind persist in feeling fucked?
It’s been a week of farewells, too. Many friends have been taking me out to dinner to say goodbye. At a certain point, I no longer knew if I was being bidden Godspeed or if I was simply schnorring. But either way, it was impossible not to feel moved.
Perhaps the most touching of these valedictory meals was a luncheon involving my fellow Cabinet spouses (we say “spouses” in order to ensure proper Democratic gender-neutrality, but we are, in fact, all wives, with the exception of Carol Browner’s husband Michael Podhortzer and me). Our group, which began meeting early in 1993, has become very collegial indeed. We started out self-consciously gracious and refined, discussing our children and the weather and admiring each other’s frocks, avoiding all unpleasantness, and eating tiny sandwiches with watercress in the middle and no crust on the bread; but we’ve made a lot of progress since then. By the second year, we stopped pretending, and we had the drill down cold: minimal preliminary pleasantries, just for the sake of propriety, and then get down and dish. And let me tell you, no reputation emerges unscathed.
It seemed to me we outdid ourselves at my farewell luncheon a couple of days ago (you know who you are, Rhoda), even though the group was considerably reduced owing to summer travel. Nevertheless, mud incontestably got slung. (Didn’t it, Heidi?) Opposition ears were no doubt burning. (Don’t you think, Ellen and Donna?)
God, I’m going to miss my sister spouses!